Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Awards and Aces

I roll my eyes at Oscar blogging, the endless navel-gazing and prognosticating, on matters as weighty as "Will Ben Affleck be nominated for Hollywoodland?". [No.] But now that the nominations have been announced, I should probably say a few words, a day late (an eternity in blogging time) I know, but I'm still ever-so-slightly jet-lagged from our weeklong trip to Hong Kong.

Actually, I did contribute a few timely words on the topic, in response to a ongoing thread on the Mobius Home Video Forum. I put in my two cents worth about the Oscar-ability of Happy Feet (come to think of it, a film better than just about any of the Best Picture nominees, Meryl Streep as Best Actress (and not Supporting Actress), and Little Miss Sunshine, which seems to be blamed for stealing Dreamgirls' Oscar thunder and global warming and the Iraq crisis in some circles (I liked it more than Sunshine, a pallid, feel-good version of a Michael Ritchie picture like Smile, circa 1975, but can't be roused to make a federal case for it).

As I was saying:

"I haven't seen Cars, but Happy Feet is dazzling and has a certain audacity to it. See it; it's not so easily dismissed (there's more to it than just musical penguins) and should win. Director George Miller richly deserves a statuette anyway. Monster House is enjoyable but really something to see in 3D. I would've liked to have seen A Scanner Darkly in there but oh, well. [A lot of people seem to feel its rotoscoping technique isn't "real" animation.]

Streep dominates Devil. Anne Hathaway holds her own and has more screen time but it's her show all the way; the movie hangs on her chilly, regal presence. [Plus, I assume Fox positioned her for that category, and no one objected.]

Little Miss Sunshine is just OK enough to squeak out a win. It's neither here nor there for me and overrated. If it does win, after last year's Crash win, the Oscars are no longer to be taken seriously at all, and are clearly in the hands of voting hoi polloi. That said I liked it more than Babel (its Oscar-nominated performers are clearly there for allowing themselves to be thoroughly humiliated in the course of the storyline) and Letters From Iwo Jima. I'm only middling on The Departed, which I need to see again, and would go for The Queen, the best of the bunch but I'm not seeing Best Picture there, actress and adapted screenplay for sure. [Its composer, Alexandre Desplat, should have been nominated for his exquisite Painted Veil score and not for this, but it was not to be.] It's an odd, maybe off, year in this category; there were better pictures, some of them nominees in other categories, but they just didn't get enough steam.

I'm delighted to see Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson) and Leonardo DiCaprio nominated; the acting nominations were pleasantly eclectic and give hope that the voters actually are paying attention. The former is a terrific actor and the film worth seeking out. Blood Diamond, for which I am a support team of one, is quite underrated and its risk-taking star gives a fine performance, South African accent and all. His and Djimon Hounsou's nominations may give it a boxoffice boost. But I think the Forest Whitaker steamroller, for an obvious and just OK performance in a mediocre picture whose acclaim passeth understanding to me, will win out. Will Smith's performance, based on its boxoffice, is about the only one holding Whitaker back. Anyway, I wonder if Whitaker and Mirren are tired of bumping into each other on various daises?"

I'll have more to say about this--everyone will have more to say about this--on or near Feb. 25, Oscar night. Oscar blogging for 07 pictures will commence Feb. 26, if it hasn't already ("will Hillary Swank win a third Oscar for Freedom Writers?).

One thing's for sure: Smokin' Aces, which Universal opens on Friday, won't be up for consideration next year. A warmed-over retread from the era of Tarantino knockoffs, circa 1998, that swaggers and snarls like it's really something special, the film is a comedown from the gritty neo-noir of writer/director Joe Carnahan's very fine Narc. An all-star cast of sort-of stars (many of them gratingly one-note performers, including Andy Garcia and Jeremy Piven) fires heavy ammo and hardboiled quips at each other for close to two hours in a tortured hit man scenario. It ends not with a twist, but with lunkheaded exposition that strains mightily to supply the picture with a twist (contrast this with the supple writing of The Usual Suspects, one of the films it nakedly wants to be, with visual allusions to blaxploitation and Mad Max besides). I laughed at Jason Bateman's sad-sack lawyer and the pumped-up samurai kid, but these were oases I fell onto gratefully, anything to relieve the tedium of being dragged back into a picture based on Maxim magazine babes-and-firepower attitude.

Sigh, shrug: It's January. If you must, see Anthony Minghella's well-intentioned if not entirely succesful contribution to the well-intentioned but never entirely succesful multi-story genre (Babel, Crash), Breaking and Entering (Miramax, opens Friday) or, better, catch up with a deserving Oscar nominee like Pan's Labyrinth.

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